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SXSW 2006 #4 - Austin-tatious

Posted by John / March 17, 2006

With this post, I resolve to catch up. I can barely recall which shows I saw on Wednesday, which is bad for several reasons, and which I should deal with before I have no recollection whatsoever.

So, Wednesday: I dragged myself out of bed to go see Lifelike (Tally Abecassis' film, mentioned in previous post), and it was entirely worth it. Both hilarious and fascinating, and never at the expense of the subjects, who are pretty much the way you'd expect taxidermists to be, and who a lesser person (i.e., me) would have probably mocked mercilessly for the cheap laughs. The short doc before Lifelike was The Aluminum Fowl, a brilliant portrait of a group of poor-as-hell young black men in some depressing place in rural U.S.A. who kill time by getting their chickens to fight each other to death. They're bored and mean and aimless, and the camera didn't shy away from that, which made for a film that was often very hard to watch. It was monumentally sad, and in just fifteen minutes I felt like someone had scooped out my insides and left me there like an empty shell.

OK, on to the music.

I headed to the Canadian BBQ, or, more precisely, the VIP thingy before the Canadian BBQ, which was held across the street from the site of said BBQ in a fancy lounge/bar at the Hilton. Schmooze-o-rama. I mostly stood near the window pretending my cell phone reception only worked there until Matthew Swanson, director of the also-previously-mentioned Hiro, showed up.

I did a quick interview with Matt, and then we walked over to the BBQ, where we caught six or so songs by the High Dials, who, I always rediscover, are really, really good. They've departed from their psychedelic side almost entirely, and are now an almost impossibly-tight pop band.

When they finished I went to see the Beastie Boys' Q&A at the convention centre. I don't regret going even though it was awful: no moderator, just bad question after bad question from the audience, along the lines of (picture a nerdy suburban white kid with a backpack): "Yo yo, I've been a fan since way back. I saw you guys in Philly in '91 and it was the bomb. You guys really had a big impact on me. Anyway, my question is, uh, when you're writing lyrics, uh, Mike D, is your Buddhism a big part of things?" Which Mike D would then brush off with a "No, not really."

Back outside to see a bit of Magneta Lane at the BBQ. then I think we ate something, and then we went to see the Young Knives, a UK act recommended by ex-Radio 3 gal Mar Sellars. They were three pudgy Brits wearing oxford shirts and ties, and their music was above-average pop-rock, but they were boring to watch, and I was beginning to wilt after what felt like five days on my feet. Excitement was needed. We dropped in to see Sailboats Are White, managed by my friend Oliver at Sonic Unyon in Hamilton, but I'm sad to say that they were one of those bands I don't understand (TM). Loud and not uninteresting instrumentation, and a frontman who acted drunk and crazy and wrapped the microphone cord around himself and would occasionally writhe on the floor. Nobody's ever done that before.

Next was the Grates, an Aussie trio (occasionnally a quartet, I guess) who have played Montreal a zillion times recently, but who I've never seen. It's safe to say that they will be huge soon. Their singer bounces around the stage the entire time and has adorable little arm motions for various parts of every song, but behind her amazingly endearing presence is actual music -- often just simple four-chord riffs -- that stands up.

Of Montreal played Emo's, one of the larger venues, and after dealing with horrible sound for the first song blew everybody's minds. Disco-edged bubblegum pop? I don't even know. Those harmonies will lead to world peace, I think. Also, I'm working on a theory about a band's goodness being proportional to how much their merch guy loves them, and when I went to peruse CDs and said I wanted something older and what did he recommend, he began gushing about various records and finally narrowed it down to two for me. Theory proven.

We dropped in on the Velvet Teen, who we had been excited to see, but who set up forever and then were dull. Fortunately, Scot (of film Metal: A Headbanger's Journey) sent a text message (the official communication method of Canadians at SXSW, I suspect) about Spoon playing the Blender afterparty. We hiked into cab range, split a taxi with some random people, and arrived just in time for the last 10 bars of the last Spoon song. We attempted to drown our sorrows with free booze, but then they ran out of beer and the tequila and lime juice things they invented were not good. At that point Echo and the Bunnymen came on, which was slightly exciting, so we watched them until suddenly it was 3:30 and our feet would not allow us to stay out any longer.

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